Lab Experiments are a Major Source of Knowledge in the Social Sciences

17 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2010  

Armin Falk

IZA Institute of Labor Economics; University of Bonn - Economic Science Area; CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

James J. Heckman

University of Chicago - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); American Bar Foundation; Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA); CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

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Date Written: December 2009

Abstract

Laboratory experiments are a widely used methodology for advancing causal knowledge in the physical and life sciences. With the exception of psychology, the adoption of laboratory experiments has been much slower in the social sciences, although during the last two decades, the use of lab experiments has accelerated. Nonetheless, there remains considerable resistance among social scientists who argue that lab experiments lack ‘realism’ and ‘generalizability’. In this article we discuss the advantages and limitations of laboratory social science experiments by comparing them to research based on non-experimental data and to field experiments. We argue that many recent objections against lab experiments are misguided and that even more lab experiments should be conducted.

Keywords: laboratory experiments, field experiments, controlled variation

JEL Classification: C90, C91, C92, C93, D00

Suggested Citation

Falk, Armin and Heckman, James J., Lab Experiments are a Major Source of Knowledge in the Social Sciences (December 2009). CESifo Working Paper Series No. 2894. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1536400

Armin Falk (Contact Author)

IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

University of Bonn - Economic Science Area

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D-53113 Bonn
Germany

CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

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Munich, DE-81679
Germany

James J. Heckman

University of Chicago - Department of Economics ( email )

1126 East 59th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-702-0634 (Phone)
773-702-8490 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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American Bar Foundation

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Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679
Germany

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